Once apathetic, young Iranians now say they'll vote
Tens of thousands have rallied in favor of Ahmadinejad challenger Mousavi ahead of June 12 election.
She did not vote in Iran's last election. Nor in the election before that. But the young Iranian law graduate, who once took pride in her distance from politics, says that Friday's presidential election is "different."Skip to next paragraph
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So every night for a week now, Tooska has headed out with friends after midnight and joined tens of thousands of other boisterous Iranians filling the streets of the capital to shout, honk, and chant their support for top challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Tooska's decision to vote is one of a number of phenomena that are sweeping Iran during the current election, which has become a highly contested referendum on the performance of the archconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rolicking in the car as it lurches forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Tooska lets her head scarf fall back as she explains why, this time, she is taking part. Motorcycles roar past with Mousavi posters, trailing green ribbons that mark Mr. Mousavi's "green wave" campaign, the riders hurling insults at the president.
"Like Mousavi, I feel the danger we are in," says Tooska, who asked that this pseudonym be used. The scenes on these streets were inconceivable just a few weeks ago; even those in the throng stare in disbelief, repeating that they have never witnessed such a political outpouring in Iran in their lives.
"During these four years, everyone is unsatisfied with the system [of the Islamic Republic]," says Tooska, her eyes riveted on the public party scene around her. "This time, change is necessary because [the situation] is worse than ever."
Tooska is one of three apolitical Iranians, interviewed by the Monitor in March 2008, who chose not to vote in parliamentary elections. But in each case, their disillusion has turned to determination to vote for a new president.
Back then, Tooska sought solace in her own world, as a painter and karate competitor.
"I oblige myself to tolerate what I can't change," she told the Monitor. "You can't be angry every morning, all the time ... with the country."
A sense that real change in possible
But now, the chance of change seems real to these three electoral converts. Though just a microsampling, their change in attitude seems mirrored in many Iranian cities – and especially the capital, Tehran, which is home to 20 percent of the population.
These were once the foot soldiers of the reform movement, which peaked with the election landslides of Mohamad Khatami in 1997 and 2001. The high expectations and promises of more social freedoms and political openness were then thwarted – sometimes violently – by hard-line politicians as well as security and vigilante forces.
The result was resignation and withdrawal in disgust from politics by those who gave Mr. Khatami unprecedented turnouts and victories of 70 percent and 79 percent in the two elections.
Conservatives have long been able to count on bedrock support of up to 20 percent. But efforts by post-Khatami reformists to lure more liberal, Western-leaning voters back to the polls have until now failed, in a regime that, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, equated voter turnout with legitimacy.
Week's rallies suggest a large turnout
And that turnout is going to be large, if the events of this week are any gauge. Candidates have held rival rallies and marches, and Mousavi supporters formed a human chain along a green ribbon from the top of Tehran to the bottom, a 12-mile stretch of Vali Asr Avenue that is the longest of its kind in the Middle East.
"It was an experience of a lifetime – it was so beautiful. I was so happy to be there," says Siavash, a sales manager at a large office supply store. "Nobody planned it. People just came out, not because they believe [in Mousavi], but because they want something to be stopped."
Siavash didn't vote last time, figuring that it was a waste of time. When the Monitor first met him in 2005, Siavash – also a pseudonym – was picking up Westernized Iranian women while stuck in traffic.